Every night I’d go home and complain to my wife about him—how he could never count out the correct change, how I’d find him asleep in the bathroom and the breakroom and the janitor’s closet, how he always wore the same pair of pants with a hole in the crotch that was impossible not to look at, how he used inappropriate language around children. On his eighth day, I called him into my office and fired him, cursing myself all the while for having hired him in the first place. He nodded. I did try, he said. I could tell that he had, sort of, but trying was something else he was terrible at, too. You took longer to fire me than most, he added. There was nothing really to say to that, so I said nothing. I tapped my pencil and stared at him, at his two front teeth resting like a jackrabbit’s on his chapped bottom lip. When he stood to leave, I stood up, too, and before I even realized I was going to say anything I found myself telling him to hold up, that there was something I wanted to give him, something from my house five minutes away. Without a word, he returned to the chair in front of my desk. Still fairly confounded by what I had said, I drove home, wondering what it was that I intended to give him.
After looking around our living room without success, I moved to our bedroom. I opened my closet and looked at the three suits I owned. What the hell do you need three suits for? I asked myself, so I snatched the olive gabardine and returned with it to the office, feeling slightly dizzy all the while. I want you to have this, I said, holding it out to him. Okay, he said, almost as if he’d been waiting the whole time for this. He left without thanking me. I then stood there in a daze, unsure of what had just happened.
When my wife discovered my olive gabardine missing a few days later, she asked me where it was. A stinging bubble of tears welled up in me—instantly, as a matter of fact, as if it had just been waiting to be called forth by the correct words—and I broke down right there in front of her, my wife of twenty-seven years. I understood.
“Oh, God, honey,” I said, pulling her against me. “I used to make fun of him. I used to make fun of him. But it wasn’t his fault.”
With her gentle fingers stroking my hair, I told her then—for the first time—about my little brother, how he had died before Mom and Dad could afford to get his buck teeth fixed. My poor little brother, who had never worn a suit before the one he wore in his casket.
Mini-interview with Kevin Grauke
HFR: Can you share a moment that has shaped you as a writer (or continues to)?
KG: When I was a boy, my parents would make my sister and me sit with them on Christmas Eve in front of the Christmas tree and listen to the same cassette year after year. There in the dark, with the tree lights blinking, we would listen to a recording of Dylan Thomas reading A Child’s Christmas in Wales. Initially, I was too young to appreciate it; I chafed at having to be so quiet and still for so long (twenty minutes!), especially at the most exciting time of the year. Gradually, however, as the years passed, Thomas’s lyrical language began to seep into me and affect me. Had my parents not done this year after year, I honestly don’t think I would have become the reader and writer that I am today. I’m eternally grateful to them for that. Now, as a parent of two children myself, I’ve continued the tradition. My kids moan and groan about it every Christmas Eve, but they’ll thank me one of these days.
HFR: What are you reading?
KG: Lately, I’m been a lot of poetry and nonfiction; nonetheless, the books that have affected me the most over the last couple of years have mostly been fiction. Since 2019, my favorites have been both of Sarah Moss’s novels, Ghost Wall and Summerwater, both of Douglas Stuart’s novels, Shuggie Bain and Young Mungo, and Anna Burns’s Milkman. Older books that I read recently for the first time and love were Jean Stafford’s The Mountain Lion (1947) and James Agee’s A Death in the Family (1957). I highly recommend all of these.
HFR: Can you tell us what prompted “Olive Gabardine”?
KG: A long time ago, I overheard a family member telling a story about an uncle of mine after his death. All I remember about the story is this: my uncle was given a suit by a man who had just fired him from a job. For some reason, this detail stuck with me over the years—I guess because it just seemed so peculiar. Why would such a thing ever happen? Eventually, I wrote a flash that provided an answer.
HFR: What’s next? What are you working on?
KG: I’m constantly hopping from poems to essays to flash fiction. I find that I’m happiest when I’m working in multiple genres at once.
HFR: Take the floor. Be political. Be fanatical. Be anything. What do you want to share?
KG: Political: I’m writing this in mid-September of 2022, but you’re reading it no earlier than late November or December. How did the midterms go? Did the Democrats hold onto both houses (crossing my fingers)? Did you vote? Please tell me you voted. Has Trump been indicted (crossing my fingers)? So much happens so quickly these days; no telling what’s happened since I wrote this. I hope some of it’s good.
Fanatical: Watch as many Humphrey Bogart movies as you can. Listen to everything recorded by Townes Van Zandt, Blossom Dearie, Mose Allison, Tom Waits, and Tindersticks. Pet every cat that will allow you to do so. Enjoy the hell out of avocado on toast. Make your kids listen to Dylan Thomas. Help whenever you can.
Kevin Grauke has published work in such places as The Threepenny Review, The Southern Review, StoryQuarterly, Fiction, and Quarterly West. He is also the author of Shadows of Men (Queen’s Ferry), winner of the Steven Turner Award from the Texas Institute of Letters. He’s a Contributing Editor at Story, and he teaches at La Salle University in Philadelphia. Twitter: @kevingrauke.
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